If you’re considering moving to North Carolina, we’ll ask you one simple question: why haven’t you already?
With great weather, a breathtaking climate, a thriving job market, and some of the nicest neighbors around, North Carolina has become one of the top destinations for young professionals, growing families, and retirees.
As you consider all of your available options, we put together everything you need to know about moving to the Tar Heel State—beginning with the most important questions.
Is North Carolina a good place to live?
With a thriving business climate, low cost of living and beautiful landscapes across the state, living in North Carolina is a dream. With a population of over 10 million, North Carolina is the ninth largest state in the U.S. and it continues to grow. It’s a popular state for transplants, especially millennials, and it offers all sorts of lifestyles for a variety of residents.
North Carolina is split into three geographic regions. In the east are the coastal plains, which take up nearly half the state. Along the coast are the beautiful Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands that are a popular vacation destination. The central area is the Piedmont region, which contains five of the state’s largest cities, plus charming towns like Pinehurst, and historic Hillsborough. In the west are the Blue Ridge Mountains, where you will find Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Rockies. Also, there’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the United States.
North Carolina has 41 state parks, 10 national parks, and four national forests. Here, you’ll find miles of hiking trails, placid lakes and streams, and roaring whitewater rivers. If you are into the outdoors, North Carolina offers the escape for you no matter where you decide to settle.
Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill make up the “Triangle” region, and they’re some of the most popular destinations to call home. North Carolina has recently emerged as a research and technology hub, which might not paint the clearest picture of life in this state—because what really gives North Carolina its charm is the small-town community and unique personality.
No matter which town you decide on, we can tell you one thing: you’re going to love moving to North Carolina.
What are the pros and cons of moving to North Carolina?
Moving to a new area comes with unique opportunities and challenges. Here’s what you need to know about the positives and negatives of moving to North Carolina:
Living in this state comes with endless positives. Here’s what you can look forward to if you’re moving to North Carolina:
The cost of living.
One of the best things about moving to North Carolina is its people. The state has become a melting pot of diverse people from all over the country and residents appreciate that friendly, community feel.
The outdoor activities.
While summers can be hot and humid, winters are extremely mild in North Carolina—a pleasant surprise for most residents moving in from out of state. Between the Outer Banks, Lake Norman, the US National Whitewater Center and the Great Smoky Mountains, residents will never run out of places to explore. Golfers love North Carolina’s more than 600 courses, too.
Don’t think fancy when you hear the term North Carolina culture. If you like beer and barbecue, you’ll like the down-home nature of culture here. North Carolina’s craft beer scene has exploded in the past 10 years, with Asheville and Charlotte becoming brewery hubs. In this state, barbecue is a noun, not a verb, and typically refers to pork, smoked low and slow. Also, North Carolina is home to the mothervine, the oldest cultivated grapevine in the country that dates to 1584. With more than 175 wineries, North Carolina ranks 10th nationwide.
It’s no secret that North Carolina is one of the best places to live in the U.S. Most of this is due to the impressive education system, technology, and financial scene and ample career opportunities.
North Carolina has four nationally acclaimed medical schools at Duke University, East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest University. State-of-the-art hospitals in Charlotte and the Research Triangle take care of critical care. More than 100 community hospitals see to your everyday medical needs.
If you’re looking for reasons not to move to North Carolina, The Tar Heel State poses a few negatives for its residents:
A handful of small towns with high unemployment and low wages, such as Whiteville, Oxford, and Gastonia, drives North Carolina’s crime rate. While slightly higher than the national average, North Carolina is the number 26 safest state overall. The good news is that most places are generally safe with a few exceptions.
The lack of seasons.
If you’re relocating to North Carolina from somewhere with four distinct seasons, the mild weather can definitely take some getting used to. Summers are hot and snow is rare. But on the other hand, if you’re fleeing from the cold and snow in favor of warmer weather, you’re in luck!
While the weather is enjoyable year-round, residents that live on the coast are always at risk of hurricane damage. If you’re from out of state, hurricanes may take some getting used to! Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30. Just be sure to stay on top of warnings and purchase insurance if you’re near the coast.
What are the best places to live in North Carolina?
Stretching nearly 500 miles long, moving to North Carolina is an adventurer’s dream. Whether you enjoy spending your free time exploring nature’s mountains and beaches or you prefer more of an urban lifestyle, North Carolina’s cities offer something for everyone.
Here are some of the best places to live in North Carolina:
Known as the largest city in North Carolina and one of the best places to live in the U.S., Charlotte has become a popular destination for migrants around the country. Charlotte’s median income has increased substantially, which is partly why this metro region is responsible for more than a quarter of North Carolina’s GDP. Students who come to study at UNC Charlotte, Johnson & Wales, Queens University, and Davidson College often stay thanks to job growth. Many of those jobs are at the six Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the Charlotte metro. They include Bank of America, Lowe’s, Nucor, Duke Energy, Sonic Automotive, and Brighthouse Financial.
Between its up-and-coming neighborhoods, vibrant downtown life, and family-friendly communities, it’s no wonder that singles, young couples, and families are moving to Charlotte at a fast rate. Located in southeast North Carolina, it’s also a short drive to Asheville and South Carolina—offering even more to do in this area.
As the state capital and second-largest city in North Carolina, Raleigh has tons to offer its residents. The city has an impressive technology hub, including its 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park (RTP), home to more than 200 companies and 50,000 employees. If you’re moving to Raleigh, you’ll love the laid back environment, endless outdoor activities, and Southern hospitality.
Many newcomers move to nearby small towns like Cary and Apex. They both have low unemployment rates, high median incomes, and small-town charm.
About 30 minutes north of Raleigh is another great place to plant some roots in North Carolina: Durham.
Durham is part of the Research Triangle, and it is known as the City of Medicine for many reasons. It has one of the top 10 hospitals in the U.S. and a physician-to-population ratio almost 5 times the national average. Home to Duke University, Durham is one of the few popular sports towns in North Carolina. Residents love their Blue Devils!
If you don’t mind a short commute, Holly Springs, Morrisville, and Wake Forest are popular suburbs of Durham. They are affordable and very safe.
Home to the University of North Carolina and its Carolina Tar Heels, Chapel Hill is a thriving college town not far from Raleigh and Durham. But, Chapel Hill is much more than a college town. The economy is closely tied to technology, science, and the arts. From its picturesque downtown and historic campus to the renowned Ackland Art Museum and breathtaking views of Jordan Lake, Chapel Hill is all about living authentically.
Calling all foodies: Asheville is THE place to be for food.
But really—it’s officially dubbed the world’s only “Foodtopian Society,” where residents believe incredible food fuels everything. Residents can enjoy the culinary collaborators’ creativity, passion, and local flavors that combine into a unique experience for all. Don’t forget a craft beer. Asheville has been named Beer City USA four times. Between delicious food and beer, an eclectic music and arts scene, and outdoor adventures at nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll never run out of things to do.
Located in the Outer Banks region, Wilmington is the ultimate destination for beach lovers.
In a short drive, residents can visit Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach. Unlike many of North Carolina’s top areas, Wilmington is far from suburbia. This historic port town is quaint, charming, and most of all, friendly. The area encourages locally owned shops, small businesses, and even a dog-friendly downtown. You might also catch a glimpse of a famous actor here from time to time. Wilmington has been called the Hollywood of the East, or Wilmywood, because of the TV shows and movies filmed here. For those who appreciate an eclectic, laid back lifestyle, Wilmington would make the perfect home.
Nicknamed the “Gate City” due to its short distance to all the major cities in the state, Greensboro is one of North Carolina’s top destinations. Although it’s home to North Carolina’s third-largest metro, the area feels like a small community—making it the perfect place to raise a family. Residents can enjoy plenty of attractions, including a zoo, waterpark, art galleries, and golf courses.
What is the cost of living in North Carolina?
In one word: affordable! If you’re moving to North Carolina, expect low home prices, low rent, and low taxes.
If you’re relocating from a larger metro area, you can also expect more house for your money. Charlotte has one of the most affordable big city housing markets in the country. The cost of living in Asheville, for example, is 44 percent lower than New York City—while the salaries are only 27 percent lower. Some of the most affordable cities are Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem.
The median home price in Charlotte is around $240,000. If you’re looking to purchase a home, act now! Realtor.com experts predict continued growth in Charlotte home prices. Here’s what you can expect if you’re looking to rent in North Carolina:
- Studio apartment: $985 compared to a national average of $1,050
- 1-bedroom apartment: $800 compared to a national average of $1,000
- 2-bedroom apartment: $940 compared to a national average of $1,200
- 3-bedroom apartment: $1,100 compared to a national average of $1,500
The cost of utilities in Charlotte is also 14 percent lower than the national average, contributing to North Carolina’s low cost of living and high quality of life.
“For all of these families, quality of life is the most important thing when buying real estate,” notes Neal Hanks, Jr., president of Beverly Hanks & Associates. “And that makes them the norm for people who choose to live in these states. I personally believe that the future for North Carolina real estate, particularly in the mountains, will remain very bright for the foreseeable future.”
What is the job market like in North Carolina?
No matter which city you’re moving to, there are plenty of career opportunities across several different industries—including small businesses and startups.
“I think the exciting thing is that in our larger cities other than the Triangle – the Triad Region, Charlotte, and communities like Asheville and Wilmington and Greenville – there are very refreshing locally grown entrepreneurial initiatives, some represented by co-working spaces,” notes Scott Daugherty, North Carolina’s Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC) Director. “We are seeing more and more communities looking at creating that kind of space.”
What was once known as a traditional economy built on tobacco and manufacturing has quickly evolved into a technology-driven economy. Energy, finance, and information technology are all rapidly growing sectors in the state with several major employers nearby.
Here are some of the top industries in North Carolina:
North Carolina is the second-largest banking center in the U.S. and is primarily known for its top-ranked business climate. Companies with major operations in the area include AT&T, Lowe’s, Compass Group, Microsoft, Nucor, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America.
North Carolina’s energy sector is rapidly growing and making a name for itself. The state is the third-largest producer of electricity and is second when it comes to turbine manufacturing growth. Companies include Duke Energy, Siemens, GE Hitachi, and more.
Major biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are flocking to North Carolina. Companies include Biogen, BD, Merck, Bayer, and more. This is due to North Carolina housing the largest research park in the country (and well-known research universities).
North Carolina is home to several leaders in the defense and security industry, including Honda Jet, Honeywell, GE Aviation and Lockheed Martin. Many local graduates pursue this field, helping the state continue its legacy as a leader in aerospace.
Believe it or not, North Carolina is the “Furniture Capital of the World.” The state is home to the largest furnishings trade show and the largest furniture manufacturer in the world. Companies include Ashley Furniture, Ethan Allen, Century, and more.
In addition to these growing sectors, schools in the area act as a major source of employment too. Schools that have an affiliation with RTP include Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University. Wake Forest University, Davidson College, and Appalachian State University are also some of the top-ranked universities in the state.
Is North Carolina a good place to retire?
If you’re moving to North Carolina and wondering what retirement life looks like, you’re in the right place. From majestic mountains to incredible vistas and exciting hikes, who wouldn’t want to spend their retirement in North Carolina?
The numbers back up the argument, too. North Carolina has an affordable housing market. The cost of living for retirees is 3.7% cheaper than the national average and North Carolina no longer taxes Social Security income. Other taxes are generally low, too, making North Carolina a great place to settle down in your later years.
Here are five of the most popular places to retire in North Carolina:
Offering beautiful waterfalls, mountains, and friendly locals, this town was No. 1 on Forbes’ list of Best Places to Retire in the U.S. This small town of about 7,000 is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. Brevard sits adjacent to the Pisgah National Forest with its 470 miles of hiking trails. It has a robust music and arts scene, thanks in large part to the impact of the Brevard Music Center.
This breathtaking city located in the Southern area of the Appalachians is historical, hip and always has something going on. There are more than 500 restaurants and bars and 150 art galleries, many located in the River Arts District. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs right through Asheville, taking you west to the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Asheville has been a playground for the wealthy since the 1800s. George Vanderbilt began buying property here in the late 1800s and built what is now America’s largest home: The Biltmore Estate.
If you’re familiar with the movie “The Notebook”, you might fall in love with this quaint, charming town near the sea. It’s where Pepsi-Cola was invented and is North Carolina’s second-oldest town. Life here focuses on the water. Two rivers converge in New Bern, then flow into the Atlantic Ocean, which is a 45-minute drive away.
If your idea of relaxation is by the sea, Outer Banks is for you. It’s where English settlers first attempted to build a colony in the New World. They failed, leaving behind the mystery of the Lost Colony. Two bicycle-making brothers came here from Ohio and broke the bonds of gravity. There’s a monument to the Wright Brothers’ achievement at Kill Devil Hills. Retirees now soak up the sun or relax in a beach house.
Located just 30 minutes from downtown Charlotte, Davidson is a lakeside town offering a small-town feel and Southern hospitality. Davidson College is right on Main Street, giving the town a youthful vibe. Lake Norman with its 520 miles of shoreline provides a myriad of water activities. It’s been rated one of the safest towns in America.
Will you spend your retirement years relaxing on a beach? In the mountains? Shopping downtown? Regardless of which you prefer, North Carolina’s geography, culture, and diverse range of destinations have you covered.
How bad is North Carolina traffic?
While public transportation is available, most residents in North Carolina commute by car. If you plan to live outside of the city, you’ll probably want to own one, too. Residents in any major city obviously have to deal with rush-hour traffic. But here’s the good news: compared to other metro areas of its size, Charlotte traffic is a breeze.
If you’re within the city centers, they’re walkable, but outside the downtown area tends to be less walkable since it’s more spread out. City centers also have a range of public transportation for those without vehicles.
The four largest transit agencies in North Carolina are located in Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh-Durham, and Winston-Salem. There are many bus routes running through the major cities, and some free transit lines as well.
To put price into perspective, a ride on the LYNX Blue Line Light Rail (Charlotte) costs $2.20 each way. Bus passes cost $2.20. Yellow Cab’s rates are $2.50 for passenger pickup and $2.50 per additional mile.
North Carolina’s larger cities also have bike-share systems. The Charlotte B-cycle offers 24-hour passes for $8 plus $4 for each additional 30 minutes. Some residents prefer to invest in an annual membership, which is $65, or $15 for students.
Considering moving to North Carolina?
Do you like professional sports like the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NASCAR? Will you be moving to North Carolina for a condo in Charlotte? Beach views near Lake Norman? Incredible food in Asheville? Regardless of your preferences, North Carolina is a beautiful state for planting your roots. If you’re debating moving to North Carolina, hopefully our relocation guide will help answer some of your most important questions.
If you’re looking for assistance through the moving process, we’re here to help however we can. Life Storage offers self-storage in Durham, self-storage in Greensboro, and moving truck rentals so you can move into your North Carolina home as seamlessly as possible.
What are you most excited for in moving to North Carolina? What tips do you have for new residents? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Update: This post was originally published on July 2, 2018, and was revised on August 24, 2020, with new information from North Carolina expert, Harry Hoover.